It takes 5 minutes to clean up the spilled milk. But it takes much longer to clean up a broken spirit. Rebecca Eanes wrote this in her book and opened the door towards the poetical nature of parenting. “Parenting”, a task like a steeplechase game in which every step is moving towards a hurdle and pits. Which needs to be crossed. It’s not so easy for normal parents with a normal child to travel on this road of parenting. However, when it comes to parents with mental illness; the task becomes arduous for the parents as well as the children.
Global data and various indexes are appealing to the world in this era of morbidity. The institute for health matric and evaluation reported in their flagship global burden of disease study (2017) that estimated 792 million people lived with a mental health disorder. This is slightly more than one in ten people globally. It could be any disease, for example – anxiety, OCD, depression, psychosis, substance disorder or anything else. Although, it makes a major impact on the related people and their dynamics. The 20th century witnessed the work of John Bowlby (1907-1990). The notable psychologist who worked in the area of attachment and its impact on personality development of a child.
He states that the important component of the personality development is attachment. If compromised in anyways can lead to difficult results. The relationship of the parents with psychosis and child’s personality development is linear but not very straight. Since the era of Sigmund Freud and Erickson, in the history of psychology and human behavior, the interaction of the children and caregivers have been depicted in detail. It was almost the root of all psychological and psycho-social conjectures. It clearly shows that lots of personality components are based on the dynamics among the children and parents. Genetic loading is precisely decisive, but here the discussion is about the psychological component which had been seen in children of parents with psychosis.
Anthony (1969) carried out a fascinating research that demonstrated the profound effects that parental mental illness had on the kid. The toddler is more sensitive if the behavior of one parent is more chaotic. A child learns to perceive the world through his parent’s eyes. He learns to trust people through the perceived social interaction. He learns the emotional reciprocity from his parents. According to Goleman (1995), parents are the ones who primarily impart the fundamentals of emotional intelligence.
Parents are sole trainer for a child in area of social, emotional, cognitive, interpersonal, and other developmental perspectives. But in psychosis, their way of seeing the world is different and it affects the child in a bottomless manner. Anthony (1995) distinguished between three categories of relationships: The first category includes children who experience psychosis due to genetic predisposition.
The second category includes children whose problems can be directly linked to a symbiotic relationship with their parents. A third category includes children who experience psychosis due to the whims of the strange environment their ill parents have created.
The relationship between a child and sick parents revolves around a different world colored with the darkness of illness. It gives birth to shared delusions and a peculiar personality. A younger kid may have extreme primitivization due to these symptoms. Which causes a severe loss of ego skills and disturbs the child’s sense of objective reality. In the case of an elder child or adolescent, it may lead to transient disorders. Such as brief psychosis, acting out behavior or the development of such neurotic disturbances as nightmares, obsession, and phobias.
If we look at the type of psychosis in the psychotic parents and the clinical status of the non-psychotic spouse, the approximate estimate of genetic risk is 15 to 20 percent in a given sample. On a rating scale ranging from “most likely” to “least likely” to develop psychosis in their adulthood, about 15 percent fall into the “most likely” category. Studies further confirm that there are risks of developing personality disorders in the children of parents with psychosis.
Generally, the behavior contains the occurrence of difficulty in thoughts, mistrust, or extreme childlike behavior. These micro episodes are absolutely easy to differentiate from the normal behavior of the child and last up to three days to three months. Even the separation from the sick parents doesn’t help much in these episodes because of their deep-rootedness. In some children, there are micro-paranoid episodes which include expansion of suspiciousness and a sense of persecution.
As notable psychologist Piaget has described that elder children during their middle years, may achieve miniature systems based on simple dichotomous cataloging. Due to the ability of abstraction and propositional thinking. An internally consistent group of suspicious ideas becomes possible and these are unshakable most of the time. There are many noted cases in which young children presented with episodes of aggression, suspiciousness, disturbing emotions, difficulty in the thinking process, and uncontrollable communication.
In all the above cases, there was a direct link with the parental psychotic illness. The home environment plays a very important role in shaping the personality of a child. We cannot accept the environment around a psychotic parent as normal. The first thing is to neglect. In the case of a parent with psychosis, the children start to lead separate lives of their own. Unsupervised and undisciplined, and there is a high incidence of behavior problems and delinquency.
Another factor is “suspiciousness.” Family life is included into those cycles of illusion as a result of growing up in a pseudo-community, which causes the entire family structure to become disorganised. The reactive environment in such a setting is characterised by incoherence, chaotic management, inconsistent messages, highly ambiguous. However potent impacts, unclear aims and reasons, and a high degree of intrusiveness. This ‘environment of irrationality’ envelops the family and makes for the unpredictable crisis that hovers over the lives of the children. At one moment there is an intimate closeness and at the next, bitter and unjustified accusations. The following story attempts to illustrate the “climate” of such a psychotic environment fostered by ill parents.
“The family lived in a shattered building in need of repair. Two of the children, a boy aged nine and a girl aged seven squatting comfortably on a wall and sharing a cigarette. The girl’s clothing was in horrible condition. When asked about the whereabouts of their parents, the boy said that “old Amma” was where she always was, in the back room. “Take care you don’t hurt her when you go in” he added; she lies on the floor by the door.
It’s a typical example of environment. Story doesn’t get complete without discussing resilience. There are various studies which show that lots of children demonstrate high resilience and that helps them in dealing with the parents and to structure their own world. Generally, the typical treatment consist the holistic rehabilitation of the person with psychosis but somehow we corner the child, adolescent or adult. The most modern methods essentially consider the kid as an autonomous being in need of psychological care, hoping to stop harm before it causes total destruction.